Just as in-person meetings and conferences ramp up, along comes a bully called inflation to knock the wind out of our recently unfurled sails.
While higher costs haven’t yet slowed summer vacationers, you have to wonder if they will cause some belt cinching as far as conference attendance. Will members of professional or special-interest associations be willing or actually have the budgets to attend?
As we all look at ways to cut back on our growing grocery and gas expenses, meeting planners are thinking about how to deliver more for less and ways to remind attendees of how attending a conference can pay off in professional terms. Here are five strategies planners might consider for diminishing inflation’s impact.
Emphasize Value: Show How Conferences Pay Off
Varied marketing messages can remind association members of what they miss when they don’t attend. Association leaders might tweet about high-profile speakers and seminars; photos of fun gatherings from past conferences can be compelling Facebook posts. Invite members to share stories on social media channels about connections they’ve made or things they’ve learned at past conferences.
It’s also a good time to look for ways to add more value. Perhaps offer more CEU courses or poll members about which topics are most pertinent and find speakers to tackle them. Offering badges — digital credentials that can be added to social media IDs or email signatures — is another way to add value. MPI is offering badges for training and certification at its annual conference. As it points out, “badges have become popular among many different industry sectors because they provide a way for designees to visually display the achievements and skills important in today’s competitive workforce.” Companies including credly.com and badgecert.com specialize in creating badges.
Shake It Up: Try Something New
Using the same conference format and agenda structure year after year makes planning easier, but does it make anything better? This could be the year to shake it up. How could the look, feel and design of your conference work better and be more economical?
Instead of a national conference, would it make sense to have regional meetings to make them more accessible to more members? Since everyone is itching to take trips, could the conference be a “bring your family along” affair, allowing members to combine business and pleasure? That strategy might earn points with host hotels, which like booking the extra room nights as families arrive a few days early or stay a few days longer to see the town, swim in the pool or chill out in a room that includes maid service. A hotel partner might offer discounts or extras to members who bring the family along.
Be Flexible: Registration Options Mean More Attendees
It might also be time, if you haven’t already, to offer different registration options. The AIA Conference on Architecture in June offered a range of registrations. At the top was platinum level, with extras like access guest tickets for keynotes and private meet-and-greets with AIA award winners. A gold pass ($975 for members) offered standard access. At the low end, members could buy a one-day pass for $415 or an expo pass for $80.
This might also be a good time to review conference costs to keep registration fees in line with years past. Instead of three meals a day, cut back to two so attendees have the excuse to explore the town and dine with selected peers. A meatless lunch or dinner might resonate with those who do meatless Mondays at home to save money. If you’ve convinced members to bring family along, host a casual cookout with hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, salad and lots of ice cream instead of a sit-down meal that requires banquet service.
‘So Long’ to Big Cities: Suburbs Mean Savings
Think of your attendee’s budget as you choose a meeting destination. This might be the year to opt for a suburb instead of the big city. Arlington, Virginia, instead of Washington. Bloomington, Minnesota, instead of Minneapolis. Marietta, Georgia, instead of Atlanta. Making a shift to a suburban area can be more economical with savings most dramatic in terms of guest room rates and parking fees.
In Chicago, hotel rooms at two conference hotels were running $300-$350 a night for a four-day stretch in July; parking overnight will add another $40-$70 per day. In comparison, at the Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center Downers Grove, 20 miles from Chicago, room rates for the same July dates were $179-$210, with free parking and a free shuttle within a five-mile radius.
Call for Assistance: Tap Into CVB Services
Most convention and visitors bureaus help out meeting planners in tangible and often money-saving ways. A CVB’s convention services department might make nametags, gift bags or welcome signs; some will line up registration staffing. Even though there are sometimes fees for nametags and staffing, the service will still save time and effort. CVBs can also supply, free of charge, videos, postcards, photography and stories about the destination.
Meet NKY, the marketing arm for northern Kentucky, offers a marketing toolkit with downloadable photos and promotional videos, logos, social media links, promotional flyers and postcards, as well as restaurant discounts that can be loaded on attendees’ phones. Visit Wichita’s services include support staff for registration (fees possible); visitor guides; visitor bags; discounts for shopping, food and attractions; area maps; a welcome booth; and digital welcome signs at the airport.